Stolen Valor Writ Large

Within the American military and the veterans’ community there is no more despicable crime than that of Stolen Valor. It took years for us to convince Congress that representing oneself as a veteran or a military member when one is not, should be a criminal act. The catalyst that finally moved Congress to action was the book, Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History by B.G. “Jug” Burkett, a former Army officer and Vietnam veteran, and Glenna Whitely. Burkett and Whitely assembled a comprehensive and compelling argument that most of the homeless losers, loners and druggies the mainstream media spotlighted as typical Vietnam veterans were in fact phonies who had either never served in the military, or if they had, had never been anywhere close to Vietnam.

Congress passed the first Stolen Valor act in 2005 but it was seldom enforced and ultimately struck down in 2012 by the Supreme Court as a too broadly written limitation on free speech. The following year Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 which amends the federal criminal code to make it a federal violation to make fraudulent claims about military service with the intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit.

In addition, 18 USC § 912 provides that whoever falsely assumes or pretends to be an officer or employee acting under the authority of the United States or any department, agency or officer thereof, and acts as such, or in such pretended character demands or obtains any money, paper, document, or thing of value, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both. And 10 USC § 771 states that except as otherwise provided by law, no person except a member of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps, as the case may be, may wear -- (1) the uniform, or a distinctive part of the uniform, of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps; or (2) a uniform any part of which is similar to a distinctive part of the uniform of the Army, Navy, Air Force, or Marine Corps.

Another element of Stolen Valor offenders is that the wannabees don’t just claim combat service but they seem unable to resist portraying themselves as performing heroic deeds while serving in elite units. The real-life exploits of the Navy’s SEAL units has made them the favored target of the phonies followed closely by Army Special Forces, Army Rangers, Marine Force Recon, and even the occasional Air Force Special Operations Commando. As faux special operators, they lavishly award themselves with the medals listed above, frequently with multiple awards of the same medals which most of us with military service quickly spot as bogus because of the relative rarity of such occurrences.

While many of the impostors content themselves with boasting of their ersatz exploits on Facebook and other social media outlets, the bolder ones simply can’t resist swathing themselves in uniform, which is almost always their downfall because try as they might, they just never get it right. Sometimes it is downright laughable how wrong they do get it but the fact remains that any uniform is usually sufficient to fool the civilian populace into giving them military discounts or other preferential treatments which is where their deception crosses the line into criminal behavior. Some present counterfeit military documents to buttress their claims of entitlement. Many large corporations generously offer substantial discounts to those with proof of military service just as many states offer special license plates, including Purple Heart tags, indicating that one has been wounded in battle, a significant honor among those who have faced an enemy in combat and survived to wear it. 

All that explanation brings me to the subject of my title. It is to set the stage so that you who have no military experience can comprehend how seriously the military and veterans’ community take such fraud and deception. While the usual suspects in Stolen Valor incidents tend to be ordinary people who wish to embellish an otherwise lackluster existence or more mean-spiritedly to derive a benefit from their deceptions, occasionally even the mighty, famed far and wide, who one would think have no need to embroider their careers just can’t resist the temptation to satisfy something that is apparently lacking in their sense of self-worth. The Democrat party has had a number of such among their leadership among them presidential candidates, secretaries of state, senators and on and on.

Now we have a mainstream media figure, NBC News anchorman Brian Williams, who has been accused of making false claims of coming under hostile fire in Iraq while aboard a helicopter. Those who blew the whistle are former members of the air crews who were present and know that Williams’ claim is bogus: Stolen Valor writ large. Caught out so publicly, Williams has recanted, but in the most weaselly way possible, a civilian version of the usual fallback position for Stolen Valor frauds when caught, PTSD, or in William’s case,

“I would not have chosen to make this mistake,” Williams said. “I don’t know what screwed up in my mind that caused me to conflate one aircraft with another.”

Yeah, well, he’s only been telling that story publicly, even on air, that his helicopter was shot down, since 2003, and as recently as last Friday during NBC’s coverage of a tribute to a wounded veteran at a New York Rangers hockey game. While Williams will no doubt have most of the liberal media and the Democrat party circling their wagons around him, there are some of his media colleagues who are calling for his resignation, noting that as an anchorman, his perceived honesty is his most essential qualification for the job. I hold out little hope for that eventuality but I find it ironic that it is a member of the same media that promoted and perpetuated the wave of Stolen Valor incidents so long ago that led to the image of us Vietnam veterans as drug-crazed, homeless losers that now feels the sting. However, I do hope that this incident will focus wider attention on the very real problem of Stolen Valor and make Americans realize that it is a serious offense to those of us who have worn the uniform and served honorably. And those of you who would entertain the thought of committing Stolen Valor fraud just might want to consider how many of us there are out there who will expose and report you, just as Brian Williams has been outted by former members of the 159th Aviation Regiment. And like Williams, your well-deserved embarrassment will be quite public, posted on the many veteran-operated websites out there who out phonies every day. Your family, tour friends, your co-workers, everyone who knows you will know what a rat you are.

Here are some of those websites:

And here’s a web page with a list of federal agencies to which suspected Stolen Valor fraud can be reported:

Oh, I was going to list the NBC News contact link but it’s not working. Wonder why?